Defending has been pretty good so far, despite having to re-work that back line a lot. What do you see that’s happening there and what’s changed over a year?
Matt Reis: “I think we all knew going into this year, having given up the most goals last year, that we were going to try to eradicate that. So, I think that’s been on everybody’s mind. I think that as a group we’ve all made an effort to make defending our top priority, and I think it’s clearly shown.”
A.J. Soares: “We have a system on the team that the guys are getting used to, and everyone just goes out there and works as hard as they can. With good communication and good teamwork, that’s how a defensive unit becomes good. So, I think we are working on that and we are getting better every day.”
Are you guys a little bit surprised that the communication is coming together so quickly?
Reis: “No. I think we were all open to the idea. We’ve got so many new guys that we really had to work on it, and be open to the fact that we are all going to have to really make a conscious effort to talk about things.”
Can you talk about the Columbus game, what you have seen so far and any changes you might be looking to over the games in Atlanta?
Steve Nicol: “The game yesterday was really good in patches, and not quite as good in patches. Both (of our) teams played 45 (minutes). Both were pretty similar in the fact that they both did good things, but they both did some basic things at the wrong time. But, again, that’s part of preseason. You just try to work together to get to a complete 90 minutes.
“As far as changes, we won’t make too many changes. It won’t be two teams on Wednesday. One team will play a large majority of the game. We might make a couple of changes, but we aren’t planning on making a lot of changes.”
The defense has looked pretty good so far this preseason. In your estimation, has the team also been holding the ball a lot better as well?
Nicol: “At times we have actually passed it well. We’ve changed it well. We still have been a little bit inconsistent, as well, so we just try to put it together. When we do play early and we play well, then we do look like a team. So we need to put it together and make it 90 minutes and keep it like that.”
A.J., this is your first preseason in MLS. What have you seen so far that has you encouraged as far as the competition and your own performances as well?
Soares: “I am just encouraged to be in a group that is working hard and working for each other. That’s the kind of team that everyone likes to be on, and I’m just glad to be part of that kind of group. As far as the competition, it’s always fun to play against good players, and go out and play in front of some fans like we did in Chattanooga the other night. I think our team is really enjoying themselves and we are having a good time.”
A.J., how have you been dealing with the speed of the MLS players so far? You had 45 good minutes against Columbus the other day, and I am just wondering how you felt after that?
Soares: “Yeah, basically everything is up a level from the college game. It’s faster, it’s better passing, faster mentally. I think I am doing fine with it. I’m still adjusting to it. I don’t think it’s a problem. I just try to get better every day and that’s all I can do.”
What did you see from the new back line that you started against Columbus? Did you see anything that you have to work on?
Nicol: “We have to keep on working on the basics so that we are consistent all the time - getting up and edging up and just defending as a group. Columbus had a couple of guys with pace, so that’s something you’re always wary of as a defender. A couple times we had some one-on-ones with some of the quicker guys, and we dealt with it well. So, that goes well for the season.”
The next match against Columbus will be one that is closer to the start of the regular season. What do you expect the difference from one game to the next to be?
Nicol: “Well, I am hoping that difference will be that we will keep the ball better for longer periods, and we create as many chances as we can, and take them. As you said, we are getting close (to the start of the season), so we want to be a lot more consistent going into the season. That’s one thing we are looking for tomorrow. We want to be taking care of the ball on a consistent basis at a high level.”
Can you update us on the condition of (Ousmane) Dabo and (Didier) Domi? Are they OK and do you expect them to play this week?
Nicol: “We expect Didier Domi to play on Wednesday. (Ousmane) Dabo won’t play Wednesday. He’s day-to-day.”
There weren’t that many French players in the league up until recently. What’s your impression of the French players?
Nicol: “To be honest, I think all of the players that we’ve seen have all been basically been playing outside of France most of their careers. They’re clearly good players. They’ve had good careers. And I think the good thing is that we’re getting them before their time is up. You’re going to get quality from them and a high professionalism level, as well. So, it’s a great combination to have on your team.”
You’ve played against French players for a long time as a player, but it seems that they have only been exported to England before, maybe not over here. Why weren’t they coming over here do you think?
Nicol: “You have to look at our league. The last two or three seasons, with the DP positions coming on and more teams making money available to get Designated Players, they’re coming into the wage bracket that they’re looking for, more than anything. It’s a combination of wanting to come to the U.S., and also the fact that we can pay them somewhat near to what they’re looking for. And again, that’s the reason why they are starting to come now – certainly the more experienced ones.”
What was your impression of French players’ awareness of MLS? When you were over there scouting, did they know about where they were going? Did they know about MLS?
Nicol: “Well, everyone knows about MLS now. (David) Beckham had a huge influence on the rest of the world looking at MLS. So people do know what MLS is. As far as the ins and outs (of the league), they don’t know, but they just know it is now a higher-profile league with some well known players have played here, so everybody is interested in that.”
What’s the plan for Michael Augustine this season? I know that he is a young guy, a guy with a lot of pace, so how do you see him fitting into the team this year?
Nicol: “Well, the plan is to get him (acclimated), get him used to our team and the way we do things. Hopefully he can understand the way the game is played here and work it out quickly so we can get him vying for a spot on the team. A lot of that is down to him, and how quickly he figures it out. But he has got talent, and the sooner he does, the better it is for everybody.”
Were you encouraged from his performance in the half he played yesterday?
Nicol: “Absolutely. Very impressed. He walked straight off the plane basically and he’s playing in a game. He did some good things, and he did some things that need improving, but yeah, I’m well impressed.”